Spring update and connection to Kenya

2021-03-31 09:45:24 elkecole

My spring newsletter is here:

Please consider supporting this workshop- as participant or by donation.  Learn more here.


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Kenya permaculture practicum review

2019-12-20 23:29:52 elkecole

In August/ September 2019 Magarini Childre’s center hosted its first Permaculture practicum. The following is an account of the activities .

Magarini Children’s Center and demonstration Farm is located an hour inland from Malindi, Kenya. The location is quite remote, away from any village center. Jescar Mbuche and Emmanuel Karisa Baya started this center with bold action and vision to create a place where children in need will get an education and also learn core skills of farming. Both have been receiving permaculture and organic farming training in Japan and Canada, as well as peace and leadership development.

the site of Magarini Center

Imagine a large fire circle- maybe 30 feet across. Benches and chairs set up and a large fire burning. People gathered: the older students of Magarini, the teachers, three North Americans and Jescar and Emmanuel who run the center.

It’s dark, and it’s warm. Nobody knew what to expect. Emmanuel began by welcoming everyone in English and quickly changed to the local language. He addressed the crowd and response came back – back and forth it went , shouting out shouting back, and laughter.

The energy was palpable, this was something very much of the place, deeply rooted.

Emmanuel would run in circles and shout, then dance and draw others into the action. Riddles were given and solved. Some of the teachers shared something. Language didn’t matter.

I just sat in amazement, goosebumps even now as I tell the story. I asked Emmanuel later how often they do this and he replied ‘it was the first time’. As a young boy he had spent time with the elders, sitting by the fire. This is where he learned, and this is what he was able to evoke.

This was the last evening that I spent at Magarini Center , completing part 1 of the Power of Hope program. We had spent 4 weeks at the site, setting up camp, planning and building the foundation of a new kitchen, and building rocket cook stoves: one for Jescar’s home, one in the existing cook shelter and two on a platform in the space of the new kitchen, all the while sharing with locals how to do this.

We had one participant from abroad- AJ was just the right guy for a situation where everything was a ‘ first time’: first time with campers on site, first time feeding foreigners, first time supporting a program under funding. Big thanks goes to LUSH for their support.

The program was conceived while Jescar Mbuche visited OUR Ecovillage as an assistant teacher for the PDC and EDE in 2017. Over time the program developed into two main parts: a natural building segment facilitated by me and a food forest and water management segment facilitated by Brandon Bauer. Each piece was 3 weeks long with a few days in between for exploration of the area.

August is school break and there were few children around, and only a few teachers. Instead we met builders and farmers who were ready to engage. The fields were standing tall with Maize, vegetables growing and new crops to be planted.

There are many needs: the girls dormitory needs finishing work. A more solid kitchen with dishwashing, preparation and serving areas. More classrooms for the ever growing number of students.

For us the priority was designing the kitchen and building stoves. A filmmaker team came to produce a video about building Jescar’s stove, soon to be published. A dining hall is also in the planning- this will be a large Natural building , to be built in a program in August 2021. Please contact me if you wish to receive information once available.

Brandon Bauer arrived shortly after we left. The outcome of his time there is impressive: 250 m of swales for the farm, planted 1000 trees including papayas, bananas, mango, cashew, avocado, sour sop, and custard apple . Plus tamarind and giant timber bamboo.  7000 seeds to start a nursery.

Aside from farm work, the water system was expanded so that the new kitchen as well as bathrooms and dormitories are now connected to pipes and solar pumps, saving many hours of carrying buckets of water every day!

Today life carries on at the farm and school, meals are being cooked in the same shelter, but on a rocket cook stove. Preparations are made for a chicken house.

There’s a gofundme campaign running for the holidays: click on the link and you will experience Emmanuel’s storytelling and please do consider a contribution to this cause.

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Welcome 2019

2019-01-10 03:59:18 elkecole

Welcome to 2019!

We started the year full steam with a workshop at Collective Space in Duncan. Lot’s of learning and good fun , and the meeting room was painted. We hope to keep this momentum going with more local workshops:

Journey into Natural homes , Jan 19 in at Collective Space in Duncan

Claypaint and simple natural plaster , January 26 at Collective Space


Design your Natural Home , March 23/24 at OUR Ecovillage

Dream your dream and make it real this year!

At the end of 2018 I sent a newsletter to my list. Here’s an excerpt:

… At this time I reflect on 2018, a year of continuing the shift I began by going abroad. A central topic to my life seems to be around the question “what is home?”.
During our travels we created ‘home’ in a few locations: a tent at Amarula campsite while building a cabin, a shared apartment in Berlin, an apartment overlooking the city of Bamenda in Cameroon and finally a shared house not far from Nairobi. We learned to have home in our luggage and with each other, with place and facilities changing. I’m guessing, those of you who travel can relate. …

Read the full newsletter

or if you just want to see this years offers as they stand today go to the workshop page.

Help wanted!

Volunteers in Duncan to help with the construction of a playground for the Cowichan Intercultural Society. The work will be taking place from March onward. Learn to build with Cob, Wood, tires and you’ll be planting. Please send an email with your phone contact and an introduction with info about you, your skills, and why you want to participate, to: elke@elkecole.com


Support person in social media and marketing outreach:

This is an opportunity for a trade for workshop for someone who is well versed in social media, with a feel for the culture around natural building (‘Marketing for Hippies’) . Part time , location not important. Talk to me! elke@elkecole.com

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Smoke free kitchens: Africa kitchen revolution keeps going

2018-12-18 02:29:51 elkecole

improved cook stoveI am delighted today to get news of an award (Gender Just Climate Solutions Award) that was given to Sonita Mbah from Betterworld Cameroon. She actually received the award in 2017, but could not participate in the event. So today I saw the press conference recording from COP 24 which I will share below.

Sonita is championing the project we started together in 2015/16: the Africa Kitchen Revolution. We started in the local village with a group of women and taught them to build rocket cook stoves. The model for this was to teach a group by building or two example stoves in home kitchens and then ask those women to build stoves for the rest of the members of the group. In 2016 we held a training for trainers to be able to reach more women .


If you listen to Sonita’s statement the intention we set together has been moving forward:

Women are teaching women to build their own mud stoves.

Following this work in Cameroon I have shared the stove building process again in Kenya. And the rocket stove technology has been moving into a few other countries in Africa . Here’s an example from the Gambia by builder Alagie Manneh:

work of Alagie Manneh

To me it comes down to this:

In order to serve the needs of the women who in many cases have no access to cash income, a technology has to be culturally acceptable, attainable, locally doable and independent from industrial processes . If the women succeed to spread the skills and continue to develop the design to suit their particular cooking needs, this project is successful.

If you are interested in trainings for stoves like this please contact me. I will be in East Africa in 2019 and can be available to groups or organizations.

Here now as promised the award presentation: Sonita is speaking at 16:25


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Building with Earth- an invitation to creative expression

2016-05-15 12:55:54 elkecole

I made a comment on Facebook  recently stating how much I love to work with cob more than any other earth building method.

cob and bottles

Here’s a selection of techniques and my impressions which help me decide which method to use in a specific location:


earthbags as foundation

We’ve built Earthbag foundations  in Canada (OUR Ecovillage ), Tanzania and Cameroon. The earthbag foundations work well and are low cost in places where stone isn’t available.

At a Natural building colloquium I filled long tubes with earth. Friends from the natural building movement have built beautiful domes and other homes with this method. I believe if there’s clay in your soil, forget the bags and build freely with that clay-soil. It’s a matter of location and what’s available.

Rammed Earth

Another amazing technique producing beautiful and stunning buildings is Rammed Earth. Layers of different colors tell the story of the earth at the location. I’m talking about rammed earth free of cement here, as its being done by several builders in Europe. This way of building requires serious formwork and planning. My personal experience is limited to observation, because in my work I’ve been in locations where that formwork is very difficult (expensive) to build. As a result rammed earth shows up on the high end of building cost and in larger scale buildings.

Mud blocks

Adobe in Africa

Many cultures have built with Mud blocks (Adobe) and still do so. Here in Cameroon  I see homes being constructed with a mud-block infill system, using concrete for structural support:  ringbeams and to bridge large openings. Local people have experience producing these blocks and will make their own when it’s time to build a home.  Making blocks doesn’t require much: water and clay-soil. Fiber isn’t so commonly used but is useful to prevent cracks and to strengthen the blocks. You need a flat area to lay out the blocks to dry in the sun- this will take about a week. Then dry storage until construction begins. Building walls with blocks requires some skill- to build a house takes some practice at masonry work. And those blocks are very heavy to lift. However, depending on seasonal patterns and workflow, this can be a great way to build an earth home.

Compressed Earth Blocks

compressed earth block press at work

Compressed earth blocks (CEB’s) can be made with or without cement for stabilization in various shapes and sizes. Simple mechanical block presses require  at least two people to work together – mixing the clay-soil (sometimes sifted) with a little water, then filling the form and compressing with the power of a long lever. Scale it up and you’ll see machines working with hydraulics taking the hard work out, but driving up the cost . The result is a firm, even block, sometimes interlocking. We’ve just finished building our dormitory walls with CEB’s – because we had the perfect soil on site, were too late in the season for sundried blocks , and had straight walls to build. We hired a local builder to lay the blocks as they came from the press. It got the job done.


cob makes sculpted walls

Parallel to this process our volunteers were building with cob. We created some hybrid walls with the blocks to add sculptural details and bottles. And we shaped benches and a lounge area. A layer of cob fills awkward spots in the block walls (filling around posts etc) . I watched inexperienced building volunteers mix great batches of cob, build the walls and trim them. Everybody took on designing with bottles- allowing one individual  to be the overall artistic eye.

And that’s where that statement came from.

Watching people, who have never built anything, confidently building something beautiful makes my heart sing.

Earth Plasters

applying natural plaster

We’ll be moving into Earth plasters next – where sculptures get refined and block-walls disappear behind a hand-applied layer of mud. Earthen plasters can be simple sand/clay mixes applied by hand or more sophisticated ones with additions of ingredients like mica or marble dust, finished with special trowels. It’s up to the availability of materials, skills and  taste, desires and budget of the owner.

Hybrid of techniques

The beauty with all of the options above is the possibility of mixing things up. We call it hybrid homes- for example walls of cob on one side and straw-bale on the other. Or adobe with inserts of cob for bottles and other sculpted elements. All tied together with beautiful natural plaster finishes.

I’m heading to Kenya this summer to create a cabin for my host Joannah in a couple of workshops. She’s already collecting beautiful things to incorporate. Dreaming her space. Clearing the site.

the site for the cob house

When participants arrive we’ll work with a selection of techniques appropriate to the location and learn about decision-making in the process. This opens up the possibility of  being creative builders in collaboration with others. We’ll be supporting the first stage of a learning center for permaculture in a protected forest.

So if you are so inclined, come to Kenya this August!  You will get your hands muddy and experience a different sort of safari!



Posted in: Camerooncobnatural buildingUncategorizedTagged in: CobEarth buildingearthbagplasterworkshop Read more... 0 comments

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